Why American Women Need An Expanded–Not Reduced–Social Safety Net

Source: Luisa S. Deprez and Lisa A. Morris, Scholars Strategy Network, SSN Basic Facts, March 2014

Poverty in the United States remains stubbornly high – and women are especially at risk. Older women can end up struggling despite Social Security; and single mothers and women of color, already likely to be poor, took an extra hard hit during the recent Great Recession. Yet political debates and media airwaves are full of loud calls to cut back on Social Security and Medicare and downsize or eliminate even bare-bones public safety net programs on which so many women rely – including Food Stamps, Medicaid, and child care and housing assistance. Citing cost concerns, critics argue that the U.S. is an overly dependent society, even though nine of every ten safety net dollars are spent to help people who are either too old or disabled to work or are members of households where one or two adults work for wages insufficient to make ends meet and care for children. Amidst rancorous calls for cut-backs, public support for the safety net has declined from 69% in 2007 to 59% today according to the Pew Research Center. Yet more than two-thirds of Americans still voice support for safety net programs, and almost 50% live in families receiving government income-maintenance benefits, up from 38% in 1998. Right-wingers drive the debate in directions most Americans clearly do not want to go, and legislators in the states and Congress regularly vote for reductions in social spending most voters do not endorse. Indeed, a closer look at women’s situation shows that we should be considering improvements in key safety net efforts especially vital to women and their families. …